Fast fashion: ‘How do you justify selling a £2 T-shirt?’

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Media captionPaul Lister, Primark’s head of ethical trade, is asked to justify its low prices by Mary Creagh MP

Primark has defended selling T-shirts for as little as £2, saying its ability to sell clothes so cheaply is down to its business model.

MPs investigating the impact of so-called “fast fashion” asked the firm how it could justify such low prices.

Paul Lister, Primark’s head of ethical trade and environmental sustainability, said it spent nothing on advertising and had tight profit margins.

He said he knew of no-one under 16 working in any of its supply factories.

The Commons Environmental Audit Committee is examining the impact of clothes production – for example, looking at the pollution produced by factories – especially items produced cheaply and quickly in response to trends.

It’s also examining the conditions experienced by those working in the industry.

Primark has been giving evidence on Tuesday alongside representatives from brands including Marks & Spencer, Burberry and Asos.

Committee chairman and Labour MP Mary Creagh asked Mr Lister: “How can you justify selling T-shirts in your stores for as little as two or three pounds, and how can you be making a profit on those?”

He replied: “Primark has never done any significant advertising at all, and that can save us in any year £100m to £150m compared to some of our larger rivals. That goes straight into price. That keeps our pricing low.

“We often buy on longer lead times in quiet periods for the factories and then we pay the factories early, so if you’re a factory owner you’ll able to give Primark a better price to reflect that.”

He added: “It’s our business model that takes us to a £2 T-shirt.”

On waste, Mr Lister said Primark had very little unused stock and was planning to launch a take-back scheme for consumers next year, where old clothes can be returned and used again by overseas charities.

What is fast fashion?

‘Fast fashion’ is a term to describe our high rate of fashion consumption fuelled by the quantity of new and cheap clothes.

MPs believe that the throwaway nature of fashion is fuelling fast turnarounds among suppliers, which may result in poor working conditions.

Producing clothes also requires climate-changing emissions. Global textile production produces 1.2bn tonnes of carbon emissions a year – more than international flights and maritime shipping.

Last month, MPs on another committee concluded that the fast fashion industry was a major source of the greenhouse gases that are overheating the planet.